Latest news

Planning news - 2 April 2020

Published: Thursday, 2nd April 2020

Covid-19: Quartermain outlines government support for planning authorities, Coronavirus Act allows virtual planning committee meetings, And more stories...

This weeks planning news in association with ThePlanner, the official magazine of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

RTPI logo
Planner jobs

England’s chief planner Steve Quartermain has encouraged local planning authorities to use technology to continue their service and ensure that discussions and consultations can go ahead during the outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19).

While face-to-face events and meetings might need to be cancelled, it is “important” that local authorities continue to provide the “best possible service in these stretching times and prioritise decision-making to ensure the planning system continues to function, especially where this will support the local economy”.

In a valedictory letter to local planning authority departments, Quartermain, who leaves the chief planner role at the end of this month, advised that committee decisions should be delegated where appropriate.

He explained that the government would be introducing legislation to allow council committee meetings to be held virtually for a temporary period.

“We encourage you to be pragmatic and continue, as much as possible, to work proactively with applicants and others, where necessary agreeing extended periods for making decisions.”

There will be circumstances during the outbreak of Covid-19 in which a planning authority is unable to consider a permitted development prior approval application within the deemed consent period, something Quartermain said the government recognises. 

“It remains important to prioritise these so important economic activity can continue. In these exceptional circumstances the authority can, if necessary, seek to agree an extended approval date with the applicant. Where agreement cannot be reached an authority may need to consider whether prior approval is refused if the application cannot be considered with the requisite attention,” he explained. 

Regarding the preparation of local plans, Quartermain encouraged planning authorities to continue this work as far as possible, and to “work proactively with their community and other stakeholders to progress plans, even if some adjustments to timetables are necessary”.

The letter also highlighted the measures that have already been implemented by the government to aid the planning sector through the crisis, including:

  • A written ministerial statement urging planning authorities to apply pragmatism to the enforcement of food delivery restrictions.
  • How the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) will carry out its duties.
  • Planning regulations in England will be relaxed so that pubs and restaurants can operate as hot food takeaways, which has necessitated a temporary change to permitted development rights.
  • The postponement of neighbourhood plan referendums. To minimise the financial impact of any delays to referendums, local planning authorities will be able to submit claims for New Burdens grant at an earlier point in the neighbourhood planning process in 2020/21.

On wider planner issues, the letter covers:

  • Planning for the Future, which sets out several planning reforms ahead of the publication of the planning white paper later this spring.
  • The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission and how the housing secretary has indicated that the government will look to “take forward many of the commission’s recommendations and will publish its response alongside the planning white paper”.
  • The Aggregate Mineral Survey for England and Wales 2019 – MHCLG has appointed the British Geological Survey to undertake the national collation for 2019. 

The letter can be read in full on the UK Government website (pdf).

25 March 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Planning committee meetings will be able to be held virtually during restrictions implemented to stem the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) under emergency legislation.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 gained royal assent yesterday (25 March) after being fast-tracked through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords to receive approval from the Queen. 

The 1972 Local Government Act requires councillors to be present to decide applications.

This new act makes provisions for “persons to attend, speak at, vote in, or otherwise participate in, local authority meetings without all of the persons, or without any of the persons, being together in the same place”.

The regulation is for meetings required to be held before 7 May 2021.

When the coronavirus bill was published last week, it did not include this provision, but an amendment was tabled to address the issue of committee meetings.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 can be read in full on the government’s legislation website.

26 March 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

District-level planning authorities granted 83,500 decisions in the fourth quarter of 2019, which is equivalent to 87 per cent of decisions.

This is 6 per cent fewer than the number granted in the same quarter a year earlier, according to a statistical report published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

Between October and December 2019, some 100,300 applications were submitted for planning permission to district planning authorities. This is 7 per cent fewer than between October and December in 2018. 

Of those that were major applications, 89 per cent were decided within 13 weeks or the agreed time, which is the same percentage as the corresponding quarter in 2018.

A total of 11,100 residential applications were granted, a 7 per cent decline compared with a year earlier, while 1,500 major developments were granted and 9,600 minor developments were granted.

According to the statistics, 2,100 applications for commercial developments were granted, 8 per cent fewer than the same quarter in 2018. 


District-level planning authorities granted 347, 300 decisions in December 2019, which is 5 down on the number in 2018.

These authorities granted 44,700 residential decisions. Breaking this down, 5,900 were for major developments – 7 per cent fewer than 2018, and 38,800 were for minor developments, 6 per cent fewer than 2018.

Clive Docwra, managing director of construction consulting and design agency McBains, said: “The government’s ambitious housebuilding target – delivering a million homes in the next five years – was always going to be extremely challenging, and the latest statistics bear this out. However, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will mean this is now virtually impossible.

“Many sites are empty, supply chains have been disrupted, and multimillion-pounds worth of private investment is on hold for the foreseeable future. That will knock back housebuilding rates for months, if not years.

“The government has already announced an unprecedented package of measures to help support business, but once we’ve turned the tide on the virus further help, such as tax incentives, will be needed to get the UK building again.”

Planning Applications in England: October to December 2019 can be found on the UK Government website (pdf).

30 March 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Between October and December 2019, there were an estimated 34,260 new-build starts in England, 11 per cent less than the number started between July and September 2019. 

It was also 17 per cent less than the number started in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to approximate statistics published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). 

The release also estimates that starts were down by 10 per cent in the private sector compared with the
previous three months, while housing associations started 18 per cent dwellings.

Estimates suggest that there were 44,980 completions in this quarter – a 1 per cent decrease from the previous quarter and 3 per cent higher than a year ago.

During 2019 as a whole, there were 151,020 new homes started – a 10 per cent decline on the year to December 2018. 

A total of 178,800 homes were completed in 2019 – 9 per cent more than in 2018.

30 March 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The London Cycling Campaign has published its Climate Safe Streets report – a roadmap towards decarbonising the capital’s roads within the next 10 years.

The report authors say that the “car can no longer be king”, and call on London’s next mayor and all London boroughs to make roads zero carbon by 2030.

In Climate Safe Streets the group maintains that making London’s streets carbon-neutral “cannot simply be about making all vehicles electric” and that that people must be helped to travel differently.

It points out that even if all cars were low emission the capital would need to see a 60 per cent cut in car mileage to reach any meaningful targets – never mind that electric vehicles would still cause pollution from brake and tyre dust, congestion and dangerous roads.

Taking note of observations by the UK Committee on Climate Change and the recent Clean Growth report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, and consulting with a wide range of academics and think tanks, the report says the climate emergency demands not just electric vehicles, but “a mass mode shift to make London’s streets safer and more convenient for walking and cycling”.

It also outlines decisions that the next Mayor of London should take to transform travel, as well as the opportunity for boroughs to take “a big leap towards addressing the climate emergencies” they have declared.

Creating “a new, zero carbon, healthier and more efficient system for road travel” would render it unnecessary for most Londoners to own a car again after 2030, it suggests.

Chief among measures towards this system are cheaper, more reliable bus travel, giving people easy access to zero-carbon shared motor transport as an alternative to car ownership, and enforcing the ‘polluter pays’ principle on London’s roads.

The report adds its priorities for change, including delivery of a cycling network so people could plan their daily journeys, introducing road-user charging to discourage motor vehicle trips, supporting the growth of zero-carbon shared mobility options such as dockless e-scooters (if made legal), to give all Londoners local and sustainable transport choices. Such moves would also enable car-free planning, it adds.

The group acknowledges that it means major investment for schemes and initiatives that are likely to be most effective. The eight priorities the group believes must be taken forward rapidly are:  

  1. Expansion of the Strategic Cycling Network at the highest quality;
  2. Coordinated expansion of easy access to low-carbon shared mobility services;
  3. Development and implementation of a London-wide Smart Road User Charging System;
  4. Expansion of coverage of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods to make walking, cycling and using scooters the natural choice for short journeys;
  5. Expansion and optimisation of a network of conventional and demand responsive zero-emission bus services;
  6. Proactive support for transition to low-carbon freight transport;
  7. Enabling shift to low-carbon vehicles; and
  8. Enabling of car-free planning.

It concludes: “If we rise to this challenge, we will not only have met our global responsibility to cut carbon emissions and protect the future for the planet and millions of people, but also will create a better London – one with fewer cars, less pollution, greener streets and much, much more high-quality cycling infrastructure.”

Although the group acknowledges that the report emerged before the London mayoral election was put back a year, it says its arguments and policy proposals still stand.

The full Climate Safe Streets report can be read here.

25 March 2020
Deborah Shrewsbury, The Planner

Renewable energy on the up

Government statistics have suggested that in 2019, renewable energy generated a record 36.9 per cent of the UK’s electricity.

More than half of this came from wind, according to figures published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). 

Wind provided 20 per cent of the UK’s power in 2019 – 9.9 per cent came from onshore wind and the same amount from offshore wind.

A fall in electricity generation from coal and nuclear sources was offset by the increase in renewables, said the government.

Overall, renewable and nuclear generated 54.2 per cent, gas generated 40.9 per cent and coal 2.1 per cent.

RenewableUK’s deputy chief executive Melanie Onn said the figures demonstrate just “how radically the UK’s energy system is changing, with low-cost renewables at the vanguard”.

“This will continue as we build a modern energy system, moving away from fossil fuels to reach net-zero emissions as fast as possible. As well as wind, we’ll use innovative new technologies like renewable hydrogen and marine power, and we’ll scale up battery storage.”


Edinburgh contractors asked to follow national guidance

The City of Edinburgh Council has asked contractors delivering non-essential council-led construction to follow the Scottish Government’s guidance.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has advised that all construction projects should stop during the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown unless they are delivering essential buildings, such as hospitals.

The council has set out a general position in relation to its acceptance of delays to provide clarity and to protect the health and well-being of all those who live and work here.

Council leader Adam McVey said: “The safety of workers delivering the capital’s key projects is paramount, as is our commitment to supporting the country’s efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus, so it’s essential that we comply with Scottish Government guidelines and ask contractors to halt all council-led construction projects.

“We will, of course, be working with contractors over the coming weeks to mitigate the impact on delivery of key projects for the benefit of our capital, and to finalise plans for returning to sites as quickly as possible once things return to normal.”

Last week, the council instructed contractors delivering Edinburgh’s Trams to Newhaven project to cease all work on site.


Joint venture search for Oxford North starts

Thomas White Oxford (TWO) has begun a preliminary search for a commercial and residential joint venture development partner to work with to deliver plans for Oxford North. 

The partner is sought for the development of phase 1a commercial and phase 1 Canalside residential.

Oxford North is a “sustainable innovation” district, that intends to deliver about 4,500 new jobs, 480 new homes, shops, bars and restaurants, a hotel, 23 acres of open spaces including three new parks, and significant investment into the walking, cycling, bus and highway networks.

The commercial joint venture partner will deliver part of phase 1a of the project, which is located between the A40 and A44. It will comprise three new office buildings, the central public square, temporary car and cycle parking and installation of the energy-sharing loop.

The residential joint venture partner will assist in the delivery of phase 1 Canalside to the south of the A40, which will include more than 200 homes – both market and affordable – as well as related infrastructure.

The search is being conducted through real estate consultancy Savills.


Investment in Kent railway works announced

Masterplanner The Creative District Improvement Company (TCDI Co) has teamed up with property developer Quinn Estates to announce a £250 million investment in Kent’s TV and film studios.

The restoration project intends to restore five at-risk grade II-listed buildings and convert them into 80,000 square feet of TV and film studios, 80,000 square feet of ancillary production space, 50,000 square feet of mill store and 30,000 square feet of media village.

The plans for Ashford Studios also feature a 120-room hotel, 68 serviced apartments, a creative industries conference centre and a gym, restaurant and leisure space.

TCDI Co. and Quinn Estate are collaborating with architects Guy Holloway to deliver the project, which is scheduled for 2021.

The firm has said it will fund the largest film school in the country, partnering with the University of Kent and Kent’s three other universities in its Future Media Centre. They will work with the publicly funded Thames Estuary Production Corridor, a long-term project to create the world’s largest creative corridor.


Council issues call for help to house homeless

Lichfield District Council has called on second homeowners, hoteliers, B&Bs, Airbnb owners and student housing providers to offer accommodation to the district’s homeless during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

The council is seeking properties to house rough sleepers and homeless people, as it is “vital” to get them into suitable accommodation so that they can self-isolate.

Ashley Yeates, cabinet member for communities and housing, said: “While we have currently offered accommodation to all the rough sleepers and homeless in the district we still need to have reserves, especially during this crisis. It is so important that everyone has the space to self-isolate, and this is near impossible for anyone who is sleeping rough. We are particularly looking for city centre-based accommodation, but all offers will be gratefully received.

The council will work with clients to find accommodation that is suitable for each individual, as well as ensuring that food and support needs are met.

All businesses and individuals who provide emergency accommodation will be compensated.

For more information, contact Lichfield District Council’s housing team by emailing


Burnham’s charity donates £100k to homelessness

The Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity has granted an emergency £100,000 to the city-region’s homelessness charitable sector. 

Alongside this, it has launched an urgent appeal calling on big business and individuals to donate funds to support voluntary, community and social enterprises during coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis.

Donations will form the basis of packages of goods to be delivered to those homeless people currently living in hotel accommodation.

Tim Heatley, chair of the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity, said: “The mayor’s charity fundraises all year round and is focused on reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness, and in particular rough sleeping.

“We’ve already made an emergency contribution of £100,000 – this is a recognition of the pressure on budgets and the immediate need for support. The funding will be vital in enabling the hard work of those on the front line assisting and safeguarding the homeless community throughout Greater Manchester during this pandemic.”

31 March 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner